Despite setbacks – including slow take-up in many markets – EarthLink
forges ahead with its plans in many locations, especially in Philadelphia, which some are calling the crucible on which big-city muni Wi-Fi will live or die.
EarthLink itself has already said it would be doing less to find new cities and more to prop up the cities it already has (including New Orleans, Louisiana; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Milpitas and Anaheim, California). As of today, that includes using the digital commerce services of Boston-based GetConnected Inc. (GCi). GCi is known for creating kiosks for reselling broadband Internet access, which can be found in retail outlets like Best Buy and Circuit City.
Through GCi, retailers in EarthLink’s muni-Fi cities can resell access to the network, even doing a credit check on the customer through GCi’s platform.
EarthLink also wholesales access on its networks to third parties like DirecTV, but there’s no word on if those partners will be able to get customers through the GCi option.
EarthLink says the key to their muni-Fi success is acceptance in the consumer market, thus this deal to focus on increasing adoption.
Ipsos Insight says that fully one third of Internet users in the United States are interested in using wireless Internet access that is locally subsidized, which analysts there think could lure people away from their current ISPs. This is based on a survey of U.S. adults. Adam Wright, director with Ipsos Insight’s technology and communications service, said in a statement, “Today, there are about 100 million Americans that access the Internet using some kind of broadband technology, with an additional 30 million that utilize dial-up connections. The volume of users that could migrate to municipal Wi-Fi access has the potential to disrupt the online status quo in the U.S.”
This stands in stark contrast to the lack of interest in many existing Wi-Fi deployments, perhaps most notably overseas in Taipei, currently the world’s largest Wi-Fi deployment. Fears that it won’t be much different in the U.S. are what prompted EarthLink and others to scale back on answering requests for proposal to municipalities looking for Wi-Fi partners.
According to a report from the Associated Press, EarthLink’s roll-out in Philadelphia is moving forward at full speed, and they expect to have 5,000 subscribers (at $21.95 a month, or $11 for low-income homes) by July, with 12,000 by the end of the year.
Out in Silicon Valley in California, plans to deploy wireless in a multi-city, two-county area are severely delayed, according to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal. Delays are due to legal fights over the language of agreements between the various government agencies involved. EarthLink isn’t involved there, but political in-fighting and a little citizen upheaval is also putting the hurt on EarthLink’s plans in San Francisco.